For many of you reading this, sports and being an athlete are a big part of how you define yourself. You always have a game or a tournament to play in, and if not that, then you are at practice working on your skills. As a high school athlete, you are constantly consumed with school, sports, and maybe a part-time job. Since you were small, your dream was to play your favorite sport for your favorite team. Now it’s getting to crunch time, do you really have the skills, talent, and dedication to be a collegiate athlete?
Make no bones about it, college sports can be cutthroat. I should know, I played four years of college football at Denison University. I went through a long recruiting process and fought my way through two-a-day practices in the heat and humidity, fought for my position each year, and wound up being a four-year starter.
Being a college athlete is about a lot more than just skill. I began my freshman year at Denison with 23 other kids in my class. Four years later, I played my last down with 7 kids from my class. Plenty of very talented athletes decided, for one reason or another, that college athletics was not for them. And for some, it might not be their choice to quit. Injuries play a big part in determining how much playing time, if any, you get while on the team. The addition of new players and highly touted recruits can also doom you to “riding the bench”.
In this day and age, most sports can be played year-round. So called “expert” coaches in many sports will preach to parents the importance of playing year-round. They try to scare parents by telling them that their child will fall behind the other athletes who are playing all that they can. However, there is no data out there promoting those thoughts! What data does show is that year-round, sport-specialization is leading to a drastic increase in overuse injuries in youth athletes. These injuries occur because the high volumes of repetitive motions are causing athletes to be imbalanced, and when compensations occur, weak or tight muscles get injured. Simply put, these athletes are not strong enough! Their bodies are not strong enough to hold up to the total volume that is being put onto their joints and muscles.
The importance of having a professional strength and conditioning coach create a well-rounded training program that reduces the baggage of injury before arriving on campus can make or break your playing career. Why work so hard in your sport just to find yourself so far behind others who are older or were more prepared? You have to be dedicated to showing up to your training sessions and maintaining a high level of performance during those sessions.
A properly designed program should focus on all aspects of athletic performance: strength, power, speed, stability, mobility, etc. Each program should also take into account the sport the athlete plays and the training history and ability level of the athlete. With all this information, the program should not only improve performance but also reduce the risk of injury.
So you want to be a college athlete? Work hard and be dedicated to even the smallest of improvements. Continually train to become a better athlete (which will inevitably make you better at your chosen sport), and train to “bulletproof” yourself from injuries. More time on the court/field means more eyes on you and an increased chance at playing at the next level.